Hands Off the Milk and Gas! (A Trip To Costco)

This essay was originally published on August 16, 2012.

I’ll be the first to admit that a trip to bulk-behemoth Costco is never a pleasant experience, but for things like toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent and various other products, I’m willing to suck it up and brave the crowds every few months. For some people, though, Costco is Mecca, the place where they shop for outsize configurations of groceries, cheap clothing, gas, and just about anything they can stuff into their vehicles.

Earlier this week I spotted a story about the Bellingham,Washington Costco location being overrun with Canadian shoppers (Bellingham is right on the Washington/British Columbia border), and locals getting pretty steamed about being invaded by their neighbours to the north. Especially industrious residents on both sides of the border have even set up duelling Facebook pages to rail at each other about the store’s overcrowding, fast-disappearing pallets of milk, and long lines at the gas station. I won’t even get into the parking lot issues because I have no idea just how awful B.C. drivers are. I can, however, go on for hours about Quebeckers and their proclivities behind the wheel. That’s a topic for another day.

This Costco scenario got me thinking: all my life I’ve been listening to my nutter-butter Canadian family members wax rhapsodic about how much better they think life in the United States is. I’ve mentioned this on several occasions, but when it comes to cross-border shopping, my family is not unique in their stance that Americans have no idea how lucky they are when it comes to endless retail options. Another story I read confirms this: the CBC reports that Americans enjoy 23 square feet of retail space per person, while Canadians have only 14 square feet per person. This is actually not too bad considering that Canada has only about one-tenth the population of the U.S. But, Canadians being Canadian, it’s one more reason to bitch about living in the shadow of the U.S.A.

Americans, on the other hand, should be grateful that their northern neighbours are willing to put up with annoying border crossings and other inconveniences to contribute to the ailing U.S. economy. In all the times I’ve cross-border shopped in my life, I never heard anyone in the Buffalo, New York area complain about Ontario residents “invading” their space. There are a plethora of retail establishments located within scant minutes of the Peace Bridge, which connects Buffalo with Ft. Erie, Ontario, and I’ve never once read anything about people in the Buffalo area wanting to ban Canadians from their stores. If anyone has, I’d sure appreciate hearing about it.

Going to Costco, as I’ve mentioned, has never been particularly enjoyable. The locations are always crowded, the shopping carts big and unwieldy, and the patrons are a bit, shall we say, overindulgent. I’m not suggesting that anyone should pass up great deals on staples like milk, eggs and bread, but when you’re buying cheese in blocks the size of Toyota Corollas, it might be time to reconsider just how much of it you really need. I can’t say the same for toilet paper, because I am a staunch advocate of having no less than 36 rolls in the house at all times.

The lesson we should take away from this international “incident” is that Americans and Canadians, while we look the same for the most part, have wildly varying points of view when it comes to our cross-border relationship. This is yet one more example of how ignorance can cause a shit storm, albeit one that could have easily been avoided.

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